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Vergara v. California: Judge Strikes Down Teacher Tenure

Teacher Tenure Struck DownShould public schools be allowed to fire ineffective teachers? Most people would likely answer that question in the affirmative. But for years, California schools have been essentially forbidden by state law from dismissing even the worst teachers without a fight.

Thankfully, Vergara v. California might change that soon. This week the Los Angeles County Superior Court issued an opinion holding two of the California education laws behind the problem unconstitutional. In particular the Court struck down the California “two year” statute –which grants public school teachers tenure (making them virtually impossible to fire) after two years– and  “last in first out” law– which requires that newer teachers be laid off before teachers with more seniority, regardless of their relative quality or qualifications.

After reviewing the evidence, the Court found that these laws made it virtually impossible for public schools to dismiss poor teachers. The result of this inability to fire “grossly ineffective” teachers, the Court noted, was destroying the education of countless California children to a degree that “shocks the conscience.” Moreover, the Court found that the negative effects of the policies had a disproportionate impact on low income and minority schools. These negative impacts rendered the laws unconstitutional.

Some have complained that this decision smells of judicial activism. They contend that it is the place of the legislature, not the court, to make policy decisions about education. Such cries of judicial activism have a certain appeal to them, but the activist label is not so neatly applied in this case.

Unlike the federal Constitution, the California Constitution declares that each child has a fundamental right to a free and equal public education. The Court’s duty is to uphold the Constitution and to make empirical decisions about whether or not particular education programs live up to this broad constitutional guarantee. To meet this burden in uniform manner, courts have read the education provisions of the California Constitution to require that any education law that negatively impacts public education must be narrowly tailored to meet a “compelling state interest.”

Applying that standard in the present case, the Court found that the current restrictions on hiring and firing public school teachers unquestionably negatively impacted the quality of public education. Worse, the Court could find no legitimate public reason, “much less a compelling one,” for the program. Thus, the laws were deemed unconstitutional.

The California Teachers Association has promised to appeal the decision.

The Los Angeles and Sacramento appeals lawyers at Kassouni Law commend Judge Rolf Treu, and Students Matter founder David Welch for this historic decision.



Los Angeles and Sacramento Appeals Lawyers at Kassouni Law have extensive experience both prevailing in court on appeal and posturing legal matters for appeal. If you have questions about your own legal matter,  the appeal lawyer team can be reached at 877-770-7379.

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